Syria Eats Sanctions but Looks to Mitchell Visit for Understanding

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (R) and his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad review an honor guard at Al-Shaab presidential palace in Damascus, Syria on the eve of Obamas announcement that he was renewing sanctions. Mitchell is headed for Damascus so forward momentum is being maintained. Louai Beshara / AFP / Getty

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (R) and his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad review an honor guard at Al-Shaab presidential palace in Damascus, Syria on the eve of Obama's announcement that he was renewing sanctions. Mitchell, Obama's special envoy, is headed for Damascus so forward momentum is being maintained despite the slow progress on negotiations and disapointment of renewed sanctions. Louai Beshara / AFP / Getty

Syria shrugs off US sanction renewal as ‘routine’

DAMASCUS (AFP) — Syria on Saturday dismissed a US decision to renew economic sanctions on Damascus for another year as a “routine” measure, even as the two countries are engaged in a dialogue to improve ties.

On Friday, the White House said President Barack Obama renewed the sanctions imposed by the previous administration amid continuing concerns about Syrian support for the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

It is also accused of turning a blind eye to insurgents entering Iraq through its border.

“The president felt it was necessary to take these measures. These are not new sanctions,” State Department spokesman Robert Wood told reporters in Washington.

“We have some very serious problems with the government of Syria. And we hope to be able to try to work out those differences, but a lot of it is going to be up to Syria,” Wood added…..

ABC News: Syria Criticizes Renewal of US Sanctions

Syria rejected the Obama administration’s decision to renew economic and diplomatic sanctions against Damascus and urged Washington to abandon ‘foolish policies,’ a state-run newspaper reported Sunday. The State Department announced Friday that…

Israel PM rules out land for peace with Syria

JERUSALEM (AFP) — The new Israeli government will not cede the strategic Golan Heights for the sake of peace with Syria, a senior official quoted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as telling his cabinet on Sunday.

The announcement comes after heated debate among ministers about the wisdom of pursuing the indirect contacts with Syria via Turkey launched by the former government of Ehud Olmert.

The return of the strategic plateau seized by Israel in the 1967 war is a non-negotiable Syrian demand.

“I have no intention of bringing Israeli forces down from the Golan,” Netanyahu was quoted as saying. “Everything that has taken place up to this point has no relevance.”

Hale suggests Mitchell may visit Lebanon and Syria
May 10, 2009

US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State David Hale indicated that US special envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, may visit Lebanon and Syria during his next visit to the region, pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat reported on Sunday.

Hale, according to the newspaper, told Lebanese officials he met over the past two days, that Acting Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman’s visit to Damascus demonstrated his country’s ongoing dialogue with Syria but he affirmed that there was “no new or significant progress in the relations between the two countries.”

He also told Lebanese officials that US President Barack Obama’s administration was concentrating its efforts on the Palestinian-Israeli peace process, on European and international efforts exerted on this issue and the difficulties related to the contradicting signals being sent by new Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Despite U.S. Outreach, Syria Affirms Iran Ties
By Andrew Lee Butters Thursday, May 07, 2009, Times Mag.

…The buzz in Washington [several months ago] was that a peace deal between Syria and Israel could give the U.S. leverage as it challenges Iran on a host of regional controversies, especially its nuclear weapons program. But more recently, Washington appears to have grown pessimistic — so much so that President Obama’s Middle East envoy, Sen. George Mitchell, didn’t even visit Damascus on his otherwise comprehensive tour of the region last month. The old-school rhetoric of the Ahmadinejad visit may be a further sign that expectations of an early breakthrough may have been unrealistic….

Syrian officials, however, insist that they have no intention of signing a separate peace with Israel that leaves Iran in the cold. Instead, they have been calling for a grand bargain that addresses the key points of contention between Iran and Syria on the one hand, and Israel and America on the other. In that context, a Syrian- Israeli deal would merely be a step in a larger process, a “cold peace” involving demilitarization and recognition but no normalization of relations between the two countries, and certainly no Anwar Sadat-style visits by Assad to Jerusalem. Indeed, Syria’s Foreign Minister has suggested that such an interim peace deal wouldn’t even require the Syrians to stop sheltering the Hamas leadership in Damascus.

Washington isn’t taking the bait….

…Instead of offering a grand regional bargain, Feltman has approached relations with Syria as a series of separate points of contention — support for insurgents in Iraq and for Hamas and Hizballah, attempts to overthrow the Lebanese government, hiding a possible nuclear weapons program. The U.S. demands progress on these issues as the price for easing Syria’s isolation by returning a U.S. ambassador to Damascus, ending economic sanctions and sponsoring direct peace talks between Syria and Israel. So far, Syria’s record in solving these problems has been mixed. The Syrians have helped seal the border with Iraq to prevent jihadist infiltration, but, according to U.S. officials, have dragged their feet almost everywhere else.

It’s way too soon to pronounce the Syrian track dead, because the going was always going to be painstakingly slow. Bashar al Assad, who is essentially president for life, operates a different time-frame from his term-limited American counterparts. The Assad regime will bask in the limelight of international diplomacy, but will also delay as long as possible the day of reckoning on which it has to chose between Iran and the U.S. And with Washington preparing to open talks with Tehran, Damascus may be hoping that day never arrives.

US Pursuing Cautious Engagement with Syria in Wake of Lebanese Elections
Joyce Karam, Al-Hayat, 06/05/09

…One of the most pressing issues today is the role of Syria in Lebanon, and the repeated calls from the Obama administration and Feltman himself to the Syrian leadership to avoid any meddling in the Lebanese affairs and implement UN resolutions 1701 and 1559 by securing its border and ending the flow of arms to Hizballah. Yacoubian expects the Lebanese situation to dominate Feltman talks especially that the visit comes four weeks ahead of the Lebanese Parliamentary elections on June 7. Yacoubian says that the message from the US to the Syrians is to secure non-interference from Damascus in Lebanon’s elections, and prevent another cycle of political violence.

The Syrians on their part and according to the spokesperson of the Syrian Embassy in DC Ahmed Salkini, maintain that “the Lebanese elections should take place within their legal framework, and without and violence”. Salkini adds that “we advised our friends and allies in Lebanon to ensure, in case they win, that they establish a unity government that includes the other side -one that is in accordance with the Doha Accords…we also asked the Americans to offer their friends and allies in Lebanon the same advice in case they win.”

A success of US efforts and Feltman’s visit in leading up to safe and democratic Lebanese elections might be a “turning point” in Syrian-US relations according to Yacoubian. The expert who previously worked as an analyst at the State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research (1990-1997), expects a “major milestone” for the US-Syria relations following the Lebanese parliamentary elections, only though if they “go of well without any meddling” from Damascus.

The milestone as Yacoubian points out could come in the shape of returning the US ambassador to Damascus after having been recalled in February 2005 and following the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. Another signal of Washington openness on Syria might be by including Damascus as one stop on Middle East envoy George Mitchell future itineraries. US officials confirm that Mitchell will visit “at one point” Lebanon and Syria, and they reiterate the administration’s determination to seek “comprehensive peace between Israel and its neighbors”. The Syrian government, however, and according to diplomatic sources, has asked US officials and congressional delegations to review the sanctions imposed on it since 2003 in the Syrian Accountability Act, a legislation that Shapiro helped in drafting as a former congressional aide to Senator Bill Nelson.
US officials have emphasized that any review of sanctions will primarily depend on the Syrian government taking measures mentioned in the Act, mainly ending its support to militant groups like Hamas and Hizballah, respecting Lebanon’s sovereignty and independence, and controlling the flow of fighters into Iraq.

Netanyahu: Israel will never withdraw from Golan
By Barak Ravid, Haaretz Correspondent

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a group of Russian-language reporters Thursday that Israel will never withdraw from the Golan Heights.

“Remaining on the Golan will ensure Israel has a strategic advantage in cases of military conflict with Syria,” Netanyahu said during a briefing he gave to the reporters.

Mark Gopin on his excellent blog advises Syria not to take Netanyahu’s bait:

The problem is that those in Israel who do not want a new Middle East, who want and need a fierce Arab opposition in order to hold on to all the historic land of Israel are driven by ideology to elicit from the Arab world as much inflammatory and violent positions as possible. That is why Netanyahu chose today, the day that America is renewing sanctions on Syria, to pronounce that he will never give back the Golan. For sixty years there have been Israelis like him who hope and count on Arab anger, Arab rage, Arab violence. The greatest threat to his position is Arab nonviolence and Arab statesmenship and diplomacy. It would be very helpful to Netanyahu right now if Bashar takes some action to support militarily Hamas or Hezbollah because it would prove to the West that there is no Arab peace partner. But I say, don’t take his bait. Forge ahead with the Western relationship. Obama’s people are the greatest hope in sixty years for America to join the rest of the Quartet and the rest of the world in a forceful insistence on a real path to a real Palestinian state as the ultimate and most important solution to Middle Eastern, Arab and Muslim problems. Syria and the Syrian people can only benefit from that path.

Norman writes:

I saw this response to the sanctions in the comment section of Haaretz. It is woth posting:

Are these 3 sanctions the only sanctions against Syria?!

– prohibit arms exports to Syria: No problem as Syria can rely on their long term supplier Russia.

– block Syrian airlines from operating in USA: No problem as I don`t think there were that many Syrian airlines operating in USA before anyway.

– deny Syrians suspected of being associated with terrorist groups access to the U.S. financial system: well a citizen of any national (not only Syrian) suspected of being associated with terrorist groups are banned in the US and denied access to all US systems (financial or otherwise) anyway.

So these look like “token” sanctions and shouldn`t affect the progress in US-Syria relationship. I am sure the top US diplomats (who visited Syria yesterday) would have told the Syrian officials about the up coming sanction renewal: “Oh BTW, tomorrow will renew the yearly sanctions against you, don`t worry about it, these are just formalities and should be abolished by next year anyway…blahblahblah

Analysis: Pope’s visit puts focus on Mideast Christians

By John L. Allen Jr., CNN, John L. Allen Jr. is the senior correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter and senior Vatican analyst for CNN.

AMMAN, Jordan (CNN) — Given the delicate balancing act with Muslims and Jews facing Pope Benedict XVI in the Middle East, it can be easy to forget there’s also a third faith with antique roots in the region wanting some attention from the pontiff: Christianity.

After two days devoted largely to outreach to Muslims, Benedict finally focused on his own Christian flock on Sunday, celebrating Mass in a soccer stadium in downtown Amman. The event drew Christians not only from Jordan, but also from Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt and other countries in the neighborhood.

The Christians of the Middle East certainly could use the shot in the arm. At least demographically, Christianity today stands on the brink of extinction in the land where Jesus Christ lived, and where the faith first took hold.

In 1948, Christians represented 20 percent of the population in what is now Israel and the Palestinian territories; today they’re less than 2 percent, some 150,000 believers amid seven million Israelis and four million Palestinians. The pattern holds all across the Middle East, with Christians fleeing traditional strongholds such as Lebanon, Iraq and Egypt in massive numbers. As recently as 1975, estimates were that 25 million Arab Christians called the Middle East home; today the best guess is 12 million…….

Turkish-Syrian ties no strategic shift
Published: May 08, 2009

WASHINGTON, May 8 (UPI) — Though improved in recent years, a strategic alliance between Turkey and Syria does not reflect a troublesome shift in regional foreign policy, an analyst said.

Both countries approached the brink of war in 1998 following Ankara’s displeasure with Syrian support for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party.

Ankara and Damascus, however, signed a bilateral agreement in 2002 that allows both countries to coordinate their military activity.

Turkey, a NATO member, and Syria conducted their first-ever joint military exercise April 27, coordinating border forces during a three-day operation.

Both governments, meanwhile, signed a bilateral agreement on technical military cooperation in the defense sector the same day.

That effort is, in part, a reflection of the move by Syrian President Bashar Assad to ease at least some of the isolationist policies in his country.

While the joint efforts point to a growing shift in regional alliances, there is little to suggest it is part of a broader strategic alignment, Bilal Saab, a research analyst at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, writes for Jane’s Foreign Report.

The cooperation makes sense as Ankara gets Arab help in controlling its Kurdish problem while Damascus can assert its position in opposition to Israel while easing border concerns with Iraq.

“Turkish-Syrian relations have come a long way since 1998, but they still fall short of a strategic alliance, lacing as they do the requisite parallel political visions for, and positioning in, the Middle East,” Saab concluded.

المهندس رامي مخلوف يقبض على القابضتين عبر شادي كرم

Rami Makhlouf holds the reins at two holding companies through Shadi Karam

السوريون يأكلون ويلبسون بنصف دخلهم وينفقون 3% منه على الثقافة والتعليم

Syrian spend half their income on cloths and food. 3% goes to culture and education

The Power of the First Impression By ELLIOTT ABRAMS in WSJ

When President Obama meets Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, behind the diplomatic niceties, their encounter will have profound implications for confronting the threat of a nuclear Iran.

Hamas Claims U.S. and Europe are Reaching Out

By Marc Perelman/Beirut Friday, May. 08, 2009

The idea that there can be no Israeli-Palestinian peace that bypasses Hamas has lately emerged as conventional wisdom among a broad range of Washington foreign policy experts — and it appears that the U.S. and some of its key European allies may be quietly in agreement. A senior Hamas official has told TIME that Western powers publicly committed to boycotting Hamas, which is officially designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. and European Union, have nonetheless initiated discreet contacts with his organization. Osama Hamdan, the organization’s top leader in Lebanon, said in an interview in Beirut that Hamas had in recent weeks established “solid, direct contacts” with four European Union countries, and that there had been unofficial talks between Hamas and the team of President Barack Obama’s Middle East special envoy, George Mitchell. Hamdan refused to elaborate.

“We are not aware of any contact between Hamas officials and staff of Senator Mitchell,” Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs Robert Wood said in response to a query from TIME on Hamdan’s claim. And State Department spokesman Darby Holladay declined to comment on alleged contacts with Hamas, but stressed that the U.S. has not changed its policy of refusing to deal with the organization until it agrees to recognize Israel, renounce violence and endorse past Israeli-Palestinian agreements. (Hamas continues to refuse to make those concessions.) (See pictures of life under Hamas in Gaza)

Hamdan declined to identify the European countries with which he claimed Hamas has held talks, but said they were “significant” nations, and described the discussions as substantial. “I think there is a shift in [the Europeans’] position [on boycotting Hamas],” said Hamdan, who was recently elected to the organization’s top political body. “It’s not enough, but it’s encouraging� I think if that shift happens, this will help create stability and maybe peace in the region.”….

Hamdan makes clear, however, that the only shift Hamas has so far seen from Washington is a “very, very slight” change in the language emanating from the White House, and no substantial change on the ground. Still, he boasted, “maybe Obama himself and the whole Administration know the facts and the reality of the Palestinian situation� And one of those important facts is that [Mahmoud Abbas] is not in charge anymore� If they need leaders, real leaders, they can talk to Hamas.”

Hamas’ diplomatic game may actually have been helped by the election in Israel of a government that has refused to explicitly back a two-state solution to the conflict. That has allowed Hamas to argue that Israel is the party not ready for peace, and that Abbas’ recognition of Israel has not gained the Palestinians anything….

Comments (23)

alle said:

About what Norman quoted (maybe it has already been said), number three is the sanction that stings:

– deny Syrians suspected of being associated with terrorist groups access to the U.S. financial system: well a citizen of any national (not only Syrian) suspected of being associated with terrorist groups are banned in the US and denied access to all US systems (financial or otherwise) anyway.

They are using this to target not al-Qaida activists (they’re already sanctioned and hunted enough), but key figures in the regime. Among those who have had any existing US accounts frozen and whose bank/business interests are being hounded both publicly and below the line of sight, are Rami Makhlouf, Assef Shawkat, Maher Assad, Hafez Makhlouf, Mohammed Nassif Kheirbek, and others of that calibre. This definitely troubles the regime itself, since their personal assets (and/or patronage networks) may come under pressure. On the other hand, such targeted “smart sanctions” do no obvious damage to Syria’s economy or to ordinary Syrians, and I can actually see good reason to keep them in place or at least to sell them at high cost.

Other forms of non-targeted sanctions are, as pointed out, idiotic and counter-productive. When or if they work, they hit ordinary Syrians, and in so far as they don’t have effect, they instead provide political cover for the regime’s poor economic record. And yes, I think this was a routine roll-over, nothing else. The US wouldn’t lift sanctions for free even under Obama, but now they may be willing to discuss realistic terms for it. Unfortunately, those terms are likely to be more about getting Syrian cooperation on Palestine, Iraq or Lebanon than about domestic freedoms and reform…

May 10th, 2009, 8:39 pm


norman said:

Thanks for quoting my note,


Syria is moving on economic reform , It might not be as fast we all like , but is moving faster than in the last 30 years,

Political reform will come later when Syria is not being threatened by a civil war from forign interference through buying votes as it is in Lebanon , so when Syria is guaranteed non interference in it’s politecal process , we will see more freedom on that point,

About the Syrians spending less than 3% on education and culture , Could that be because Education is free and most people send their kids to free public schools to university level,

Most cultural events are out on TV immediately and watched free, that could explain the lack of expenditure on cultural events.

May 10th, 2009, 9:00 pm


majedkhaldoun said:

The syrian regime is tested,by renewing the sanction,there is hope,nothing more than hope,Mitchell will visit Syria,to present demands, and ask for concessions.
the assets of high officials,will not be unfrozen,till the tribunal exonerate th Assad family.

May 11th, 2009, 12:38 am


Abu Aaali said:

Obama should strengthen the sanctions. Bashar is getting worse not better.

May 11th, 2009, 8:04 am


Akbar Palace said:

As Syria Comment and the owners of this website continue to “chase their tails” trying to discern why the US administration is still imposing sanctions on Syria (posts about the “famous” rabbi Mark Gopin notwithstanding), one only has to read an article today in the Washington Post:

Isn’t freedom of speech wonderful?

Syria is still using terrorism as the main tool of choice in conducting her foreign policy.

Where’s Sy hersh?

May 11th, 2009, 11:48 am


Chris said:

It is fairly clear why the sanctions remain in place: Syria has not changed. The sanctions are intended to produce changes in Syrian behavior. Syrian behavior has not changed, therefore, the sanctions remain. Analysts can look deeper than this, however, that is the heart of the matter.

May 11th, 2009, 1:42 pm


Amir in Tel Aviv said:

IPSOS opinion poll: Arabs, US, Obama and more:

May 11th, 2009, 4:36 pm


Off the Wall said:


and/or patronage networks

Slam dunk on spot, good one. And good short and insightful comment.

May 11th, 2009, 5:36 pm


Alex said:

“The heart of the matter” Chris, is that the United States has many of the so called “friends of Israel” …

“friends of Israel” are the most experienced and successful lobbyists for “Israel”.

“Israel” is … all the way to the right. There is no Labor or Likud politician, there is a nation that is still quite confident that it can convince its big American friend to see almost everything in the Middle East the way Israel wants America to see it.

This will change … because the United States will not be able to continue to pay the steep price. The trillion dollar Iraq war is only one example.

Syria will wait patiently until that change takes place, during the Obama administration’s term hopefully, but there is no rush.


Here is how peace loving Israeli politicians word towards peace:

Trivializing the Holocaust

by Uri Avnery, May 11, 2009

First of all, I want to apologize to all the good women who are engaged in the world’s oldest profession.

I recently described Shimon Peres as a political prostitute. One of my female readers has protested vigorously. Prostitutes, she pointed out, earn their money honestly. They deliver what they promise.

Israel’s president, on the other hand, only tells the truth by accident. He is a political impostor and a political sham. To him, too, apply Winston Churchill’s words about a former prime minister: “The right honorable gentleman sometimes stumbles upon the truth, but he always hurries on as if nothing has happened.” Or the words of former minister Amnon Rubinstein about Ariel Sharon: “He blushes when he tells the truth.”

Like a traveling salesman offering a counterfeit product, Peres is now peddling the merchandise called Binyamin Netanyahu. He presents to the world a Netanyahu we have never known: a peacemaker, the epitome of truthfulness, a man with no other ambition than to go down in history as the founder of the state of Palestine. A Righteous Jew to outshine all Righteous Gentiles.

However, all these lies are nothing compared to trivializing the Holocaust.

In some countries, that is a criminal offense, punishable by prison. The trivializing has many guises. For example: the assertion that the gas chambers never existed. Or: that not 6 million Jews were killed, but only six hundred thousand. But the most dangerous form of minimizing is the comparison of the Holocaust to passing events, thus turning it into “a detail of history,” as Jean-Marie Le-Pen infamously put it.

This week, Shimon Peres committed exactly this crime.

Like a lackey walking in front of the king, strewing flowers on the road, Peres flew to the U.S. to prepare the ground for Netanyahu’s coming visit. He imposed himself on a reluctant Barack Obama, who had no choice but to receive him.

Posing as a new Winston Churchill, the man who warned the world against the rise of Nazi Germany, he informed Obama with solemn bombast: “As Jews we cannot but compare Iran to Nazi Germany.”

About this sentence at least three things must be said: (a) it is untrue, (b) it trivializes the Holocaust, and (c) it reflects a catastrophic policy.

Does Iran really resemble Nazi Germany?

I don’t like the regime there. As a committed atheist who insists on total separation between state and religion, I oppose any regime based on religion – in Iran, in Israel, or in any other country.

Also, I don’t like politicians like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. I am allergic to leaders who stand on balconies and declaim to the masses below. I detest demagogues who appeal to the base instincts of hatred and fear.

Alas, Ahmadinejad is not the only leader of this type. Indeed, the world is full of them; some are among the staunchest supporters of the Israeli government. In Israel, too, we do not lack this sort.

But Iran is not a fascist state. According to the evidence, there is quite a lot of freedom there, including freedom of expression. Ahmadinejad is not the only candidate for president in the present election campaign. There are a number of others, some more radical, some less.

Nor is Iran an anti-Semitic state. A Jewish community, whose members are refusing to emigrate, is living there comfortably enough. It enjoys religious freedom and has a representative in parliament. Even if we take such reports with a grain of salt, it is clear that the Jews in Iran are not being persecuted like the Jews in Nazi Germany.

And, most important: Iran is not an aggressive country. It has not attacked its neighbors for centuries. The long and bloody Iraq-Iran war was started by Saddam Hussein. It may be remembered that at the time Israel (contrary to the U.S.) supported the Iranian side and supplied it with arms. (One such transaction was accidentally disclosed in the Irangate affair.) Before the Khomeini revolution, Iran was our most important ally in the region.

Ahmadinejad hates Israel. But it has been denied that he has threatened to annihilate Israel. It appears that the crucial sentence in his famous speech was mistranslated: he did not declare his determination to wipe Israel off the map, but expressed the opinion that Israel will disappear from the map.

Frankly, I don’t think that there is such a great difference between the two versions. When the leader of a big country predicts that my state will disappear, that makes me worry. When that country appears to do everything possible to produce a nuclear bomb, that worries me even more. I draw conclusions, but about that later.

Moreover, Ahmadinejad – unlike Hitler – is not the supreme leader of his country. He is subject to the real leadership, composed of clerics. All the signs indicate that this is not a group of adventurers. On the contrary, they are very balanced, sophisticated, and prudent. Now they are cautiously feeling their way toward dialogue with the U.S., trying to reach an accord without sacrificing their regional ambitions, which are quite normal.

In brief, the speeches of one demagogic leader do not turn a country into Nazi Germany. Iran is not a mad country. It has no real interests in Israel/Palestine. Its interests are focused on the Persian Gulf area, and it wants to increase its influence throughout the Arab and Muslim world. Its relations with Syria, Hezbollah, and Hamas mostly serve this purpose, and so does the anti-Israeli incitement of Ahmadinejad.

In brief, the comparison of Iran to Nazi Germany lacks a factual basis.

From the Jewish point of view, the comparison is even more objectionable.

The Holocaust was a unique crime. True, the 20th century has seen other terrible acts of genocide, but they did not resemble the Shoah. In the Ottoman empire, a horrifying massacre of the Armenian citizens took place, which amounted to genocide. Hitler himself mentioned it, saying that the annihilation of the Jews would similarly be forgotten. Stalin killed millions of Soviet citizens in the name of a monstrous ideology, which had started as a humanist creed. So did Pol Pot, who killed millions in order to change society for the better. In Rwanda, members of one tribe slaughtered the members of another. And, alas, the list goes on.

But Nazi Germany was unique in employing the instruments of a modern industrial society in order to eliminate helpless minorities (let’s not forget the Roma, those with disabilities, and homosexuals) in a prolonged, planned, and highly organized process, with the participation of all the organs of the state. If the Nazi regime had not been overthrown by war, Hitler would have continued with the annihilation of many more millions of Poles, Ukrainians, and Russians.

Nothing like that can reasonably be expected to happen in Iran. Neither the ideology nor the composition of the regime nor any other indication leads in that direction. As far as its growing nuclear capabilities are concerned, the Israeli deterrent power will prevent any such thought from arising. (Let’s not forget that the only country ever to use nuclear bombs in war was our friend, the USA.)

Nothing that is happening in the world today resembles the Shoah, in which six million Jews were wiped out. The Palestinians did not kill six million Israelis, and we did not kill 6 million Palestinians. Comparing the Arabs to the Nazis is no less odious than comparing the Israelis to the Nazis. Many terrible things have been and are being committed in our name – but they are as far from the deeds of the Nazis as the earth is from distant galaxies.

Any such comparison for the sake of some fleeting propaganda advantage is trivializing the Holocaust and its perpetrators. If the Nazis were not worse than the ayatollahs, then the Shoah was not so terrible, after all.

In all my contacts with Palestinian leaders, including Yasser Arafat, I have always advised them to avoid this upsetting comparison. This would also be good advice for our own leaders.

Does the comparison of Iran to Nazi Germany serve Israeli interests?

Iran is there. It was our ally in the past, and may be our ally again in the future. Leaders come and go, but geopolitical interests are more or less constant. Ahmadinejad may be replaced by a leader who will see Iranian interests in a different light.

The nuclear threat to Israel will not disappear – not after a (bad) speech by Peres nor after a (good) speech by Netanyahu. All over the region, nuclear installations will pop up. This process cannot be stopped. We all need nuclear energy to desalinate water and to produce electricity without destroying the environment. As an Israeli professor, a former employee in the nuclear center at Dimona, said this week: we must reconsider our nuclear policy. It may well be to our advantage to accept the demand of the American spokeswoman that Israel (as well as India and Pakistan) join the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and a regime of strict supervision.

President Barack Obama is now saying to Israel: Put an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That is a precondition for the elimination of the threat to Israel. When the Palestinians, and the entire Arab world, make peace with Israel, Iran will not be able to exploit the conflict for the furthering of its interests. We were saying this, by the way, many years ago.

The refusal of Netanyahu-Lieberman-Barak to accept this demand shows the insincerity of their arguments about Iran. If they really believed that Iran posed an existential menace, they would hurry to dismantle the settlements, demolish the outposts, and make peace. That would, after all, be a small price to pay for the elimination of an existential danger. Their refusal proves that the entire existential story is a bluff.

And concerning the comparison of Iran to Nazi Germany: it is as convincing as the comparison of Shimon Peres to Sir Winston.

May 11th, 2009, 6:02 pm


sam said:

I think it was mostly, domestic politics. He would stand to look weak against terror, combine that with closing of gitmo, Rush and Cheney would have a field day.

May 12th, 2009, 7:42 pm


Chris said:


Are you saying that Syrian behavior wasn’t a critical factor when policymakers thought about the sanctions? It sounds like you believe that Syria’s behavior is irrelevant and that the single greatest reason for the sanctions remaining in place is lobbying by “friends of Israel,” your euphemism for jews. Sorry to ruin your conspiracy theory Alex, but the formation of U.S. foreign policy is a bit more complicated than that. Moreover, “friends of Israel”, like all other groups in American society, including Cuban-Americans, Armenian-Americans, Greek-Americans, gun-owners, retired people, religious christians, gays & lesbians, unions, have a right to participate in the political process. They can do this through a myriad of ways, among which is sending people to Washington, DC to effectively communicate their concerns to congressman, i.e. lobbying.

It is great to see that this moderator of a blog on the Middle East has decided to put Israel in quotes. What’s next, will you tell us that Syria ought to include Cyprus?

May 12th, 2009, 9:22 pm


majid said:

I feel somewhat but not totally at ease with the SC moderator.

May 12th, 2009, 9:37 pm


Akbar Palace said:

It is great to see that this moderator of a blog on the Middle East has decided to put Israel in quotes.


cc: Alex

At least Alex can say, “Some of my best friends are Co-Directors of Peace Studies”. ;0)

Thanks for bringing that to my attention.

May 13th, 2009, 1:32 am


Alex said:

Well Chris … when I write an opinion, it has nothing to do with the way I moderate the comments section. When was the last time you had an issue with my moderation? … The last few months you left 100 times more comments than I did. Did you notice?

As for my use of quotes for “Israel” and “friends of Israel” …this is because I don’t think they are friends of Israel … they are friends of sick ego and friends of conflict and violence.

I am not a fan of the Cuban lobby or the gun lobby either. But don’t worry … This is just my personal opinion … it does not change a thing.

And “Israel” today is not the Israel I can accept anymore .. I am more than happy to see Syria living in peace with a peaceful Israel … but today’s “Israel” is an aggressive, arrogant, selfish country that elects violent criminals and racists to its leadership… a country that thinks that through slick lies (like those of President Peres) it will be able to continue to fool everyone into thinking today’s “Israel” is interested in peace.

When today’s “Israel” and the “friends of Israel” in Washington understand that they have no way but to learn to respect their neighbors then I will be happy to go back to Israel, without the quotes.

Don’t worry … I have not changed my acceptance of Israel’s right to live in its UN recognized borders of pre-1967.

It is your newly elected prime minister Netanyahu and your newly updated president Peres who are again trying to go above international law.

And finally … We are hearing again that sanctions against Syria are extended because among other things, Syria failed to control its border with Iraq.

Well .. compare that to Egypt then:

MI Chief: Gaza smuggling continues, despite Egypt’s efforts
By Yuval Azoulay

Military Intelligence Chief Amos Yadlin said on Tuesday that despite Egypt’s increased patrol along its border with the Gaza Strip, the smuggling of weapons into the coastal territory has not been stymied.

May 13th, 2009, 3:45 am


Akbar Palace said:

Alex is no longer a Zionist (pass the tissues)

… but today’s “Israel” is an aggressive, arrogant, selfish country that elects violent criminals and racists to its leadership…


Thanks for finally telling us how you really feel.

And “Israel” today is not the Israel I can accept anymore ..


Please tell me and the rest of the forum when you DID accept the State of Israel, and exactly when did you change your point-of-view?

After spending a few minutes collecting and writing your thoughts on that, then ask us if we believe you.

May 13th, 2009, 11:20 am


Chris said:

Alex (the moderator) wrote:
“… today’s “Israel” is an aggressive, arrogant, selfish country”

Your vitriolic comments and the virulence of your hatred for Israel is not surprising. What is surprising is that the co-director of the center for peace studies at the University of Oklahoma would choose a person who holds such views to moderate his blog.

In the spirit of peace and coexistence, I think I’ll be voting for Israel, which chose to send Mira Awad, in the Eurovision Song contest this weekend.

May 13th, 2009, 1:20 pm


Peter H said:

Your vitriolic comments and the virulence of your hatred for Israel is not surprising. What is surprising is that the co-director of the center for peace studies at the University of Oklahoma would choose a person who holds such views to moderate his blog.

Alex’s beliefs about Israel are irrelevant to how he moderates Syria Comment. The very fact that supporters of Israel like AIG, Akbar Palace, & yourself are regular participants in the comments section is proof enough that Alex’s hostility towards the current Israeli leadership does not interfere with his commitment to a free & open discussion. I, for one, appreciate the work the administrators have done in making SC one of the best sites to go for civil discussion of the Mideast.

May 13th, 2009, 3:19 pm


Chris said:


“The very fact that supporters of Israel like AIG, Akbar Palace, & yourself are regular participants in the comments section is proof enough that Alex’s hostility towards the current Israeli leadership does not interfere with his commitment to a free & open discussion.”

There was a time when I was banned from this site because I had been too critical of the Syrian regime. I believe AIG has also been banned from participating on this site. So, it is not so clear to me that politics doesn’t come into play when it comes to the moderation of this site.

You refer to Alex’s hostility to the current Israeli leadership. Was there a time when Alex wasn’t hostile to the Israeli leadership of the time? After reading that comment of his, I get the feeling that he hates Israel and “Israel’s friends” (euphemism for jews) in the US rather than simply the current leadership.

May 13th, 2009, 4:50 pm


norman said:


You are out of line ,in what you said about Alex.

May 13th, 2009, 8:09 pm


Alex said:

Thanks Peter and Norman.

First, this comment has nothing to do with me being the moderator.

I have not done much moderating recently anyway.


You hate Muslims .. you hate Syrians .. you hate Arabs.. you hate God.

This is how outrageous you sound when you accuse me of hating Jews.

If “there was a time” you were banned, then how come it was followed by months and months of allowing you here unedited? … do you know that Israelis write more comments than Syrians on … Syria Comment?


I have accepted Israel within internationally recognized pre-1967 borders since I was a teenager. When today’s messed up “Israel” is ready to realize that inevitable eventual solution, I will be happy to recognize it.

Can you remind me the last time you DID understand a thing here? … I always wondered if you are merely pretending that you don’t understand, but your confidence shows that you really believe in what you are writing… amazing.

The two of you:

One of the reasons I am confident that today’s extremist and arrogant “Israel” will be forced within few years to learn to be more mature and more wise, is that after interacting with the two of you, and after I listen to President Peres turn into a genuine used car salesman, and after I got to appreciate the fine qualities of your country’s top diplomat (the Foreign minister) I realize that “Israel” in not in good hands …

End of personal comment.


Now as a moderator:

Any problem you have with moderation, send an email. No more disrupting the comments section. Any comment you add that is not respecting my wish, I will delete it. If you persist, you will be banned immediately.

And needless to say, you are free to discuss any serious and useful issues as much as you want. No one will ban you if you are

May 13th, 2009, 10:29 pm


Chris said:


You wrote: “As for my use of quotes for “Israel” and “friends of Israel” …this is because I don’t think they are friends of Israel … they are friends of sick ego and friends of conflict and violence.”

Are you seriously telling us that your reference to “friends of Israel” isn’t a reference to American jews? Oh and by the way, if someone is calling a people “sick” , as you did, and stating that they are friendly to violence and conflict, as you did, would it be odd to get the feeling that that he hates the people in question?

May 14th, 2009, 6:47 pm


Alex said:

I hate violence .. I don’t hate people.

You probably do not understand Chris.

Those who claim they are “Friends of Israel” include tons of Christian politicians and journalists…

Ask any American politician if he is a “friend of Israel” … tha vast majority will say that they are.

So do I hate Christians too?

May 14th, 2009, 9:20 pm


Alex said:

Here is the same from former speaker of Knesset, I hope he is not also a hater of Jews, is he Chris?

The end of Zionism

Israel must shed its illusions and choose between racist oppression and democracy

* Avraham Burg
* The Guardian, Monday 15 September 2003 11.31 BST

The Zionist revolution has always rested on two pillars: a just path and an ethical leadership. Neither of these is operative any longer. The Israeli nation today rests on a scaffolding of corruption, and on foundations of oppression and injustice. As such, the end of the Zionist enterprise is already on our doorstep. There is a real chance that ours will be the last Zionist generation. There may yet be a Jewish state here, but it will be a different sort, strange and ugly.

There is time to change course, but not much. What is needed is a new vision of a just society and the political will to implement it. Diaspora Jews for whom Israel is a central pillar of their identity must pay heed and speak out.

The opposition does not exist, and the coalition, with Ariel Sharon at its head, claims the right to remain silent. In a nation of chatterboxes, everyone has suddenly fallen dumb, because there’s nothing left to say. We live in a thunderously failed reality. Yes, we have revived the Hebrew language, created a marvellous theatre and a strong national currency. Our Jewish minds are as sharp as ever. We are traded on the Nasdaq. But is this why we created a state? The Jewish people did not survive for two millennia in order to pioneer new weaponry, computer security programs or anti-missile missiles. We were supposed to be a light unto the nations. In this we have failed.

It turns out that the 2,000-year struggle for Jewish survival comes down to a state of settlements, run by an amoral clique of corrupt lawbreakers who are deaf both to their citizens and to their enemies. A state lacking justice cannot survive. More and more Israelis are coming to understand this as they ask their children where they expect to live in 25 years. Children who are honest admit, to their parents’ shock, that they do not know. The countdown to the end of Israeli society has begun.

It is very comfortable to be a Zionist in West Bank settlements such as Beit El and Ofra. The biblical landscape is charming. You can gaze through the geraniums and bougainvilleas and not see the occupation. Travelling on the fast highway that skirts barely a half-mile west of the Palestinian roadblocks, it’s hard to comprehend the humiliating experience of the despised Arab who must creep for hours along the pocked, blockaded roads assigned to him. One road for the occupier, one road for the occupied.

This cannot work. Even if the Arabs lower their heads and swallow their shame and anger for ever, it won’t work. A structure built on human callousness will inevitably collapse in on itself. Note this moment well: Zionism’s superstructure is already collapsing like a cheap Jerusalem wedding hall. Only madmen continue dancing on the top floor while the pillars below are collapsing.

We have grown accustomed to ignoring the suffering of the women at the roadblocks. No wonder we don’t hear the cries of the abused woman living next door or the single mother struggling to support her children in dignity. We don’t even bother to count the women murdered by their husbands.

Israel, having ceased to care about the children of the Palestinians, should not be surprised when they come washed in hatred and blow themselves up in the centres of Israeli escapism. They consign themselves to Allah in our places of recreation, because their own lives are torture. They spill their own blood in our restaurants in order to ruin our appetites, because they have children and parents at home who are hungry and humiliated. We could kill a thousand ringleaders a day and nothing will be solved, because the leaders come up from below – from the wells of hatred and anger, from the “infrastructures” of injustice and moral corruption.

If all this were inevitable, divinely ordained and immutable, I would be silent. But things could be different, and so crying out is a moral imperative.

Here is what the prime minister should say to the people: the time for illusions is over. The time for decisions has arrived. We love the entire land of our forefathers and in some other time we would have wanted to live here alone. But that will not happen. The Arabs, too, have dreams and needs.

Between the Jordan and the Mediterranean there is no longer a clear Jewish majority. And so, fellow citizens, it is not possible to keep the whole thing without paying a price. We cannot keep a Palestinian majority under an Israeli boot and at the same time think ourselves the only democracy in the Middle East. There cannot be democracy without equal rights for all who live here, Arab as well as Jew. We cannot keep the territories and preserve a Jewish majority in the world’s only Jewish state – not by means that are humane and moral and Jewish.

Do you want the greater land of Israel? No problem. Abandon democracy. Let’s institute an efficient system of racial separation here, with prison camps and detention villages.

Do you want a Jewish majority? No problem. Either put the Arabs on railway cars, buses, camels and donkeys and expel them en masse – or separate ourselves from them absolutely, without tricks and gimmicks. There is no middle path. We must remove all the settlements – all of them – and draw an internationally recognised border between the Jewish national home and the Palestinian national home. The Jewish law of return will apply only within our national home, and their right of return will apply only within the borders of the Palestinian state.

Do you want democracy? No problem. Either abandon the greater land of Israel, to the last settlement and outpost, or give full citizenship and voting rights to everyone, including Arabs. The result, of course, will be that those who did not want a Palestinian state alongside us will have one in our midst, via the ballot box.

The prime minister should present the choices forthrightly: Jewish racism or democracy. Settlements, or hope for both peoples. False visions of barbed wire and suicide bombers, or a recognised international border between two states and a shared capital in Jerusalem.

Why, then, is the opposition so quiet? Perhaps because some would like to join the government at any price, even the price of participating in the sickness. But while they dither, the forces of good lose hope. Anyone who declines to present a clear-cut position – black or white – is collaborating in the decline. It is not a matter of Labour versus Likud or right versus left, but of right versus wrong, acceptable versus unacceptable. The law-abiding versus the lawbreakers. What’s needed is not a political replacement for the Sharon government but a vision of hope, an alternative to the destruction of Zionism and its values by the deaf, dumb and callous.

Israel’s friends abroad – Jewish and non-Jewish alike, presidents and prime ministers, rabbis and lay people – should choose as well. They must reach out and help Israel to navigate the road map toward our national destiny as a light unto the nations and a society of peace, justice and equality.

© Avraham Burg

· Avraham Burg was speaker of Israel’s Knesset in 1999-2003 and is a former chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel. Reprinted with permission of The Forward, which translated and adapted this essay from an article that originally appeared in Yediot Aharonot

May 15th, 2009, 6:40 pm


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